Chapter 1

“Darkness.  Cold.  Pain.  Hunger.  Those are the sensations that have become my existence.  Those are the sensations that will probably dictate my existence for as long as I’m stuck in this rat-infested hole, or until my life ends.  Whichever comes sooner.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  My name, or rather the name that they gave me upon completion of my training and when I earned the privilege to have a name, is Kaira.  Kaira Storm.  I was dumb enough to get caught and taken back to the Institute for judgment, which is how I ended up here…  But perhaps a re-telling of how I got here will help to clear some things up…

They said that I was one of the lucky ones.  Rescued from a life on the streets by being taken to the Firebrand Institute to be brought up.  Of course, I tried not to remember my life before the Institute.  Tried to believe that I remembered nothing of who I used to be, if I was anyone at all.  The Institute raised me to be one of them, as they did with dozens of other children both with me and before me.  I doubt that anything will change that tradition unless something drastic happens, which, unfortunately, I don’t see happening anytime soon, but you never know.  Things just may go in my favor soon enough, and I shall continue to hope that it will…”

****

It was nearly seventeen years ago that I was brought to the Institute.  According to the people that brought me there, I was an orphan from a neighboring city and would’ve been doomed to a life on the streets.  I don’t quite know for certain if that is true or not, but I suppose that I don’t have any way to test that theory.  A child at the tender age of three, brought to the Institute to be raised to become who knows what.  You can imagine how scared I was at the time, surrounded by strangers who knew nothing about me.  Nothing about my fears, or about my likes and dislikes.  It was definitely going to be an interesting learning experience.

Shortly after my arrival at the Institute, I was “debriefed” for lack of a better word, by the Administrator.  No one knows the Administrator’s name and all of the children refer to him as “Sir” on pain of punishment.  You can imagine how a debriefing for a three-year-old went.  Most of it just went over my head, and if you asked me now what was said, I honestly could not tell you.  After my debriefing, I was taken to the dormitories and introduced to the rest of my “learning companions” as they were called.  These “learning companions” were simply a group of children who would be sticking together for who knew how long.  The eldest of the group, a girl by the name of Syal “(how she had already gotten a name was beyond me…)”, was quick to make it known that SHE was the leader and no one else and all I did was cower in fear of the eleven-year-old girl.

To this day, I don’t see the point of putting a three-year-old with older kids, unless their intent was to help us learn.  It seemed that most of what was done was bullying and tattling if things didn’t go well.  Of course, most of the blame fell on me and the other young kids of our group and punishment was quick to follow, usually without even attempting to hear our side of things.  Perhaps those experiences are what helped to define me today…

The lessons we had were definitely different than what most children studied… if they could even be called lessons.  Most of what we did was hard labor and other menial duties, as well as difficult training regiments with severe punishment if we failed, since it was made clear from day one that we were slaves and would be treated as such.  We never had time by ourselves, nor did we ever have time to just be kids.  Our entire day was dictated by those above us and woe to the child who dared to complain about how much work we had.  By the time I was eight, my personality had been completely defined.  Gone was the naïve child that I was when I arrived, and in its place was a person who was cold and ruthless; yes, that was apparent even at that young age.  It also turned out that I was a natural in terms of fighting, mostly with melee weaponry, but I was also skilled with ranged as well.  Unfortunately, I was still too young to try to take charge of my group, but that would change soon enough.

By the time I was ten, several groups had been merged together so that we were one large working group.  Syal had risen to be our “overseer” and reported directly to the Administrator’s second-in-command… another person we didn’t quite know the name for.  All we knew was that we didn’t want to cross her since she could be quite cruel when she wanted to… which was almost constantly now that I think about it.  I guess we never had a choice in how the Administrator’s second treated us.   It wasn’t too much longer until I “graduated” from the learning groups and spent most of my time in training.  Even after I entered training, the Institute made sure to constantly remind us that we were nothing more than slaves.  The majority of us didn’t even have names!  They usually just called us by a number, which was assigned to us when we entered the Institute.  My identification was T-491.  Don’t know the significance of the letters or numbers, but that was my identity for most of my life.

As a result, I suppose that I never had the ability to truly figure out just who I was since I was stripped of my identity at such a young age.  I remember trying to protest those first few days, but several punishments effectively squashed that rebellion and soon I even forgot what my own name was.  For years, I believed what the Institute had told me.  I was a nobody, only good for bettering the ideals and values of the Institute and only when I earned a name would I be given one.

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